Will "To the Bone" Trigger Eating Disorders?

Why this new controversial Netflix film has mental health professionals worried

Posted Jun 30, 2017

Kristen Fuller
Source: Kristen Fuller

Netflix did it again, first with their controversial release of 13 Reasons Why and now with their soon to be released To the Bone, a movie that could potentially glamorize eating disorders and could foster unhealthy triggers and thoughts in those who are struggling with disordered eating.  To the Bone, which is released next month, tells the story of 20-year-old Ellen, who struggles with anorexia nervosa and enters a group recovery home for treatment. While the film’s director says the film is intended as “a conversation starter about an issue that is too often clouded by secrecy and misconceptions,” critics say the film risks glamorizing and trivializing anorexia. In this racy trailer, Collins’ character is seen counting calories and is rail thin, which are known to be emotionally triggering for viewers who are struggling with eating disorders or are in recovery. Additionally, glamorizing and trivializing eating disorders can also be potentially risky for individuals who have not yet developed an eating disorder but who have engaged in unhealthy thoughts and behaviors associated with disordered eating.

Kristen Fuller
Source: Kristen Fuller

Depicting between fact and fiction

The media often glamorizes weight loss and the desire to be thin resulting in many young girls, as young as eight years of age, engaging in harmful diets and calorie counting. Additionally, eating disorders are falsely portrayed in the media as disorders of thin, young, Caucasian women however eating disorders affect individuals of every size, age, shape and gender. A 35-year-old man who is overweight can be struggling with an eating disorder in the same fashion as a young, thin adolescent female. Another common misconception regarding eating disorders is the continued mix up between anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, when in fact they are two very different disorders. Many individuals believe that anorexia nervosa involves restricting food while bulimia nervosa involves binging and purging however anorexia nervosa has two subtypes: the restrictive subtype and the binging and purging subtype. The main difference between these two disorders is weight. Individuals with anorexia nervosa are not able to maintain the minimal weight where as individuals with bulimia nervosa are of normal weight or are even overweight.

The truth about eating disorders

Millions of people in the United States are affected by eating disorders on a daily basis and anorexia nervosa is considered to have the highest mortality rate out of any mental health disorder making this and other related disorders a very serious issue. Anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder and pica are the most well known eating disorders that can be found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM V). Eating disorders, on average, last approximately six to eight years, which is a good chunk of an individual’s life. Although food and weight are the centerpieces of an eating disorder, food is rarely the cause of such disorders. Underlying triggers that have been known to cause eating disorders include past abuse or trauma, low-self esteem, bullying, poor parental relationships, borderline personality disorder, substance abuse, non-suicidal self-injury disorder (NSSI), a perfectionistic personality, difficulty communicating negative emotions, difficulty resolving conflict, and genetics.

The actual Netflix show will not be released until August and so far, the only images that have been released to the public are from the trailer. Eating disorder professionals worldwide are hoping that the film delivers a mindful and truthful approach to eating disorders without any major triggers however only time will tell. Thus far, the trailer has received a mixed response online. The movie’s writer and director, Marti Noxon, who based the film on her own experiences, said: “My goal with the film was not to glamorize eating disorders but to serve as a conversation starter about an issue that is too often clouded by secrecy and misconceptions.”

Kristen Fuller
Source: Kristen Fuller